As we do every week before a Cowboys game, we try to get some insider knowledge on the opponent for the week. This week, the Cowboys travel to Cleveland to face the Browns, so we turn to Dawgs By Nature for the lowdown.
Blogging The Boys: The big news this week was the Browns trade for Jamie Collins. How will the Browns utilize him and how much do you expect him to play on Sunday?
Dawgs By Nature: The Browns' level of play on defense has been abysmal. The stats don't show it, but the one thing that Cleveland has actually done well is stopping the run when it comes to traditional running plays. In other words, teams typically don't line up and just gash the Browns on the ground play after play. The opposing team's running back will be at 2.5 YPC most of the game, but then one drive that'll allow a big pass play or run play and things just spiral out of control from there. They haven't been able to reel it in and stop the bleeding once it starts. That's the main thing I'm looking for out of Jamie Collins, who I expect to play inside linebacker in base defense and linebacker in the nickel package. When something goes wrong, Collins can calm the defense down and contribute to stop in some fashion, whether it be against the run, rushing the passer, or in coverage.
I think Collins should play the entire game this week. Conditioning isn't an issue since he's been playing for the Patriots. Some may argue that he doesn't know the playbook very well, but if that's the case, what difference would he make if he played 20% or 100% of the snaps, given the talent gap between him and the rest of the players on the roster? The Browns' defense is allowing 29.8 points per game. It's not going to get worse because Collins was a little shaky with his assignment on some plays.
BTB: The Browns QB situation continues to be a mess. Is that the biggest issue with this team, the driving force behind their 0-8 record? Who will start this week?
DBN: Head coach Hue Jackson stated on Thursday that he will name the Browns' starter this week on Friday. It'll either be veteran Josh McCown or rookie Cody Kessler. Even though he hasn't picked up many victories, Browns fans adore McCown for the ability and effort he's put forth over the past two seasons. Last week, he returned to action for the first time since Week 2 and was pretty rough around the edges. While I feel confident that he could smooth those things out with another week of work, I'd go back to starting Kessler if it was up to me. In five games this season, Kessler has a QB rating of 94.4. He is accurate, minimizes the turnovers, and most importantly, has been very efficient whenever opposing teams bring pressure. The downside is that he doesn't throw very well downfield, although that is something that could be assisted with the return of Corey Coleman this week.
Earlier this season, I would've said that McCown was more important to play at quarterback, because he was stable enough to help showcase the young talent surrounding him so that they could grow. Based on the preseason, we thought Kessler wasn't anywhere close to being ready to play. He has proven otherwise, though -- he can help the players around him grow NOW, while also racking up more experience himself. If the Browns had an elite-level quarterback, they could probably be a .500 or better team this year. Not many teams are blessed with that, though, so I don't see quarterback as being the biggest issue with this team's 0-8 record. Long-term, it's still a concern because we haven't come much closer to identifying the team's quarterback of the future. Just looking at this season, the defensive play, particularly at the safety position, is far-and-away the reason this team is 0-8.
BTB: Corey Coleman looks like a bright spot for the Browns. Talk about him as a player, his skills, etc. Also, how much of an impact can he have this week coming off injury?
DBN: I wish I could talk a lot about him, but the truth is that we haven't seen much of Corey Coleman either. Coleman was overcoming a hamstring injury for half of training camp. When he returned to action near the end of the preseason, he looked like he had the yips. In the season-opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, it was more of the same -- he was pressing way too much and wasn't catching the ball naturally. In Week 2 against the Ravens, everything just magically clicked from the get-go. He made a fantastic catch in the back of the end zone on a 30+ yard pass. He showed his quickness at the line of scrimmage on a wide receiver quick out for a touchdown. It looked like he'd been at this for years with no sense of worry. Leading up to the next game, he broke his hand during practice when one of our safeties stepped on it on the ground. So, can we read too much into such a small sample size? I'd like to think so. Getting open is a strength of his, but the jury is still out as to how comfortable he'll be catching passes in live game action.
BTB: How much do you fear a winless season? Is it something fans are talking about?
DBN: You're asking me this question right after the Cleveland Indians lost Game 7 of the World Series at home, so we're all a bit down from a sports perspective. However, for the past few weeks, I think the feeling has been that because the city's baseball and basketball team were so incredible in 2016, the Browns' losing record isn't so much a big deal. Don't get me wrong -- we're disappointed. However, when you're winless half-way through the season, the angst of watching the standings to see what you need to make the playoffs goes out the window. We're already looking forward to next season to see what Cleveland's draft pick will be. We're also following the Eagles and Titans, because Cleveland owns a first- and a second-round pick, respectively, from them in 2017. It'd be nice to avoid 0-16 so the club doesn't end up in the record books, and with eight games to go (many of them at home), the odds should still be in Cleveland's favor to pull out one or more wins. We've already come this far in terms of struggling, though, so it'd be counter-productive to pick up several pointless wins that cost the team its draft position.
BTB: How do you feel about Hue Jackson? Do you think he will be in Cleveland long-term, can he turn the franchise around?
DBN: There are a couple of strategic decisions I've disagreed with (although some of those are probably better pinned on defensive coordinator Ray Horton), but overall I we love what Hue Jackson has been able to do so far. He's working with a roster that was largely reset this offseason -- full of players who were either rookies, waiver claim busts, or practice-squad type players. 8 of our 11 starters on defense are new players who fall into the aforementioned categories. I don't know of many head coaches who can win with that unless you've got a Drew Brees who is used to battling in shootouts every week.
I think Jackson will be here long-term to see this rebuilding plan through. He has already turned an underwhelming-looking offense into a productive one. One of the reasons the statistics don't reflect more of Jackson's offensive success again goes back to the defense. Cleveland's offense is often playing from behind and/or pinned deep in their own territory because the defense is never helping them win the field position game. Sometimes the offense changes field position, only for the defense to give it right back within a couple of plays. It's painstakingly frustrating to watch.
Thanks for the knowledge, Dawgs By Nature.